Control Theorists Chart New Waters for Synchronized Swimmers

November 20, 2005

Barry A. Cipra

Call it the department chair's dilemma: How do you get a swarm of independently minded minions moving in concert toward some useful goal? The problem may be inherently insoluble in a professorial setting, in part because the notion of academic motion is purely metaphoric. But encouraging signs of progress have emerged for a more literal analog. Researchers in control theory are perfecting a repertoire of micromanagerial algorithms necessary--or at least sufficient--for the task of steering groups of otherwise autonomous vehicles in the service of a common goal.

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